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Communications Hardware Technology

Cell SMS in Planes on Trial Down-Under 116

Posted by Zonk
from the guess-where-i-am dept.
jetkins writes "Just days after the FCC announced that the use of cellular phones would be officially banned onboard aircraft in the USA, ZDNet reports that Australian airline Qantas is to undertake a three-month trail of a new in-flight cellular service. Initially installed on a single aircraft, the system utilizes technology from British company Aeromobile, providing a miniature GSM 'tower' within the aircraft cabin. Since GSM phones dynamically adjust their transmit power, being in such close proximity to the tower means that phones will emit only minimal RF. The system operates as a separate 'country', meaning phones must be enabled for international roaming and calls are charged at international roaming rates. During the trial at least, only SMS, MMS, and GPRS (data) traffic will be allowed; voice calls will be blocked."
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Cell SMS in Planes on Trial Down-Under

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  • Shouldn't that be FAA?

    And when are these asshats going to learn that cell phones do not interfere with flight controls? You'd figure at least one of them had to watch that MythBusters episode.

    • by brunascle (994197)
      i think it was already banned by the FAA, for a long time. the FCC just recently banned them.
    • Re:FCC? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by varmittang (849469) on Friday April 20, 2007 @10:50AM (#18811639)
      Who cares if they interfere with flight controls. I'm sick of being in a public place and having everyone yapping on their cell phones. Take that and put it in an enclosed area, makes for a very long ride with someone sitting next to you that wont shut up. Especially if you are trying to get some shut eye. That is why they are allowing data, and SMS stuff only, so that you don't have to talk to communicate with people outside the plane.
      • by vidarh (309115)
        Get noise-canceling headphones. I never travel without a pair. The good ones tend to be fairly bulky and heavy, but they're worth it even if the person next to you keeps their mouth shut just for the reduction in plane noise.
        • Man, I totally agree. I brought a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones a couple of years ago and they kick ass (aren't bulky and heavy, I can happily wear them through an 11 hour flight). Damn expensive but I compared them to a cheaper pair of "plane quiet" ones and they're worth the extra money (well, to me anyway). Sound better and do a better job of cancelling out the noise, especially when there is any movement of your head, the plane quiet ones mess up the sound somehow.
          Oh, and only bugger about a
        • I believe noise-cancelling headphones are now banned on US Airline flights under the "nothing with a battery" rule. At least during takeoff when things are noisiest. Maybe someone knows the rule in greater detail.
          • by cliffski (65094)
            you are kidding right? As if I need another reason not to fly these days. It's this kind of bullshit that makes mne glad to have booked a sleeper overnight train for my next holiday. It's like the air travel industry *wants* to commit suicide.
          • There's a valid point to not wearing them during takeoff/landing . . . those are the dangerous times for flying and you should be aware of your surroundings and be able to listen to any instructions should something go awry.
            • "When the plane strikes the ground at 400 knots, brace yourself on the seat in front of you and await instructions from the cabin crew"
          • by vidarh (309115)
            I fly London to/from San Francisco with United about once every 5-6 weeks, and they've never/ever said anything about "nothing with a battery", though I usually wait until we're in the air to get out my "travel kit". It's not takeoff and landing that bothers me. It's 11 hours of constant noise.
        • by dal20402 (895630) *

          Noise canceling headphones are great at blocking engine noise (or other constant, mostly low-frequency sound) but can't do anything about voices. If they are reducing the volume of voices it is only because they are isolating your ears.

          For me, they are not enough. I would still go insane, even with my QC3s, if voice conversations were allowed. I think SMS/data only is the perfect compromise -- allows all those crazies who can't be without the communications teat for a couple hours to get their fix, but do

          • by vidarh (309115)
            Noise canceling headphones are great at blocking engine noise (or other constant, mostly low-frequency sound) but can't do anything about voices. If they are reducing the volume of voices it is only because they are isolating your ears.

            If you think so, you better try better quality ones. Mine has an "off" switch that turns off the noise canceling. When the noise cancel function is on I can hardly make out voices right next to me. When it's off I can hear them loud and clear with the headphones on.

            • Sorry, but noise canceling headphones just don't work on voices. Perhaps you're confusing the switch setting--they actually tend to enhance voices by reducing background noise relative to the voices.
        • by karmatic (776420)
          Even better - get a pair of Shure E2c [shure.com]s (or higher). They have plugs that are basically the foam earplugs used by airline ramp agents, with a tube in them for sound. Don't "cancel" the noise - absorb it. As a nice bonus, because of the absorbtion, you can listen at a much lower volume, if you are into that thing.

          Personally, I have the E4c - better sound and more comfortable than the (arguably very comfortable) Bose headphones. Not that the Bose are the pinnacle of sound quality - you can get a good pair
          • by vidarh (309115)
            I really hate using earplugs, or I'd probably try it... I've yet to find any that doesn't feel extremely uncomfortable to me. With my headphones the only sound remaining is typically the deepest base parts of the engine noise anyway, which I don't notice much.
        • A much better idea than noise canceling headphones would be to get in ear monitors. Instead of using complicated electronics to keep sound out of your ear, they use a good old-fashioned plug. Because of this they give much better sound than sound canceling headphones. In fact many give damn good sound, as they couple very tightly with your ear drum due to the perfect seal they give.
      • Re:FCC? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Friday April 20, 2007 @11:01AM (#18811807)
        I'm sick of being in a public place and having everyone yapping on their cell phones.

        Airplanes are (supposed to be) private possessions of private companies. If you don't like a airline that supports cell phone use, you are free to take your business elsewhere.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by owlnation (858981)

          If you don't like a airline that supports cell phone use, you are free to take your business elsewhere.

          Who on earth modded you insightful for this statement? In theory maybe what you say is true, but in practice the world just doesn't work like that. In fact rather than insightful, I find your post arrogant and naive.

          1. Since when have airlines (or any companies, in any industry) offered radically different services, unless there was a significant difference in price. If one of the does something, usu

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            In theory maybe what you say is true, but in practice the world just doesn't work like that.

            Yes, that's why I was careful to include "supposed to", though not for the reasons you mentioned. I was more referring to the governmental decree that a commercial airline is not allowed to operate without abiding by numerous legislations.
          • I find your post arrogant and naive.
            I believe you meant "I find your post shallow and pedantic."
        • by MBCook (132727)
          No. The idiots will all demand it and it will be like smoke free airlines in the 70/early 80s. Sure they COULD exist, but most airlines will want the talkers and my guess is every major carrier would allow it. I would be surprised if they didn't. So the only "talk-free" airlines would be little regional or such and wouldn't serve me or my destinations probably.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by T-Bone-T (1048702)
          Except if you live in a town serviced by one airline. If I want to fly anywhere without first driving two-and-a-half hours my first flight of the trip is guaranteed to be American Eagle to the airport I would be driving to. It isn't until I get to the hub that I'm free to choose a different airline.
          • If you have the means to fly on a sufficiently regular basis that in-flight phone access is important to you, then you certainly have the means to live somewhere closer to civilization. Having fewer options as a consumer when you live in the boonies is not exactly a new issue, either.

            Life is choices.
        • Yeah, but I'm pretty sure that people will jump ship from planes that allow cell phone use. That means losses in profits, which is bad for business. Seeing that I'm probably in the majority, in that I don't want to be in close proximity with 150 to 200 people all yapping on cellphones, even if I'm on mine too. Plus, business travelers are where the money is at, and most business people on planes take the time to update spreadsheets, finish a report, write an email, or take a nap because that is the only
        • Airplanes are (supposed to be) private possessions of private companies.

          They are privately-owned public places. The "public", in case the meaning of the word eludes you, means that you are in the same place as a lot of other people that you would probably ordinarily not feel comfortable sharing, say, stories of your erectile dysfunction with.

          If you don't like a airline that supports cell phone use, you are free to take your business elsewhere.

          Fortunately, that won't be necessary because almost no airline s
        • I consider the few inches of air around my face to be temporarily my posession. I would let you know if you talked on the phone with that space for a significantly annoying amount of time.
      • I'm sick of being in a public place and having everyone yapping on their cell phones.
        I can't even imagine, it is bad enough at work where I sit cubes down from phone yammerers, I can only imagine the irritation of having to sit next to one on a multi hour flight. As a matter of fact I am getting irritated just thinking about it. Now I'm off to abuse the orally incontinent.
      • Not only did you not read the article, you didn't even read the /. abstract. They are only allowing data calls, voice isn't enabled. Sounds like a good idea to me.
        • by Dan541 (1032000)
          They cant stop people making voice calls I fail to see what makes them think people will use ONLY the aircrafts network.
          • by bloobloo (957543)
            Of course they can. You must comply with any legal order given under the authority of a plane's captain while in his aircraft. Refuse to stop talking when ordered, and you can be arrested. And the staff are allowed to use reasonable force to enforce their orders.
      • by Kalzus (86795)
        (redundant, but whatever)

        When you are in this situation, turn your head, and politely (or not) tell them to shut up. Tell them they're being irritating. If it gets out of hand, summon the flight crew and explain the situation. If enough of your passengers agree, things happen.
      • by PhotoJim (813785)
        International roaming rate... a buck or two a minute? Anyone who can afford to yack on their phone at $60-120 an hour can afford to sit in business class, and I won't be in there so I won't care. :) If someone in economy class talks on their phone for an hour, snicker to yourself about how horrible their bill is going to be. The vast majority of people are going to talk on their phones for very short durations. "We're running late; pick me up at 11." I don't see the duration of calls being a problem at
        • by hazem (472289)
          Unless we ban people talking to the people beside them, allowing phone conversations is not making things that much worse. The only thing that's different is that you can't hear the other side of the conversation.

          THANK YOU! How many people on here today are whining about other people talking on cellphones? Yet they don't complain about 2 people carrying on a face-to-face conversation (which actually has twice the noise locally).

          I honestly believe that the key reason for this annoyance is because they feel
          • by Finuance (1066546)
            I would actually prefer a two-way conversation over a one-way phone conversation.

            The fact I only hear part of the conversation, quite frankly, irritates me greatly.

            "Yeah?"
            "Oh no he didn't?"
            "Oh my GOD!"
            "I like totally know what you mean."


            Who wants to hear that crap? At least if the conversation is behind you, you'll be able to hear all the juicy details.
          • THANK YOU! How many people on here today are whining about other people talking on cellphones? Yet they don't complain about 2 people carrying on a face-to-face conversation (which actually has twice the noise locally).
            No, I complain about people talking face to face, and it is the same people. I, for one, think there is no reason to advertise ones own stupidity.

            Uhoh, I'm doing it myself.
            • by hazem (472289)
              No, I complain about people talking face to face, and it is the same people. I, for one, think there is no reason to advertise ones own stupidity.

              Uhoh, I'm doing it myself.


              I can see that - I don't necessarily hate people on cellphones... I just hate people.

              So the question that really needs to be answered is why do people feel they need to talk louder into cellphones? I even catch myself doing it. You can talk at a normal volume and they work just fine. I wonder if it's from people watching all these army
    • Re:FCC? (Score:5, Informative)

      by vidarh (309115) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Friday April 20, 2007 @10:50AM (#18811645) Homepage Journal
      If I remember correctly, the FCC and FAA have both banned it for different reasons. FCC banned it because they are concerned about how it will affect cell towers on the ground. FAA banned it because they are concerned about interference with airplane electronics. To my knowledge neither of them are saying it's definitively a problem, just that it could be and that they don't want to take the risk.
      • by zappepcs (820751)
        I believe that the _REAL_ reason that cellular phones are banned on airplanes is so that the airlines can keep passengers as close to tame cattle as possible. To control that many people standing in lines and such pretty much requires that everyone is acting like calm cattle being herded into this direction or that.

        If everyone was busy on their cellular phones during the flight, they would be the normal harassed not-paying-attention-to-anyone-else kind of people they normally are. The time dilation normally
        • by MCZapf (218870)
          You may use a cell phone during the entire boarding and de-boarding process, so the ban doesn't really help keep people calm and attentive during those times.
    • Mythbusters. (Score:2, Informative)

      by Rukie (930506)
      Uhm, as I recall on the Mythbusters show, cell phones WILL interfere if there is no shielding, but because everything is shielded there is no effect. (Right?)
      • by Detritus (11846)
        No. There's lots of wiring that isn't shielded. Even with shielded wiring, the shielding often degrades and fails with age. Plus, there are plenty of antennas that can't be shielded if you still expect them to function as antennas.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ptbarnett (159784)
      And when are these asshats going to learn that cell phones do not interfere with flight controls? You'd figure at least one of them had to watch that MythBusters episode.

      Mythbusters is an entertaining show, but their methodologies aren't exactly rigorous.

      Consumer RF devices vary widely in their behavior. Any testing effort would have to include a large sampling of what is available (and/or still in use). All it takes is one harmonic that collides with the navigation receiver's tuned frequency. It do

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Shouldn't that be FAA?
      And when are these asshats going to learn that cell phones do not interfere with flight controls? You'd figure at least one of them had to watch that MythBusters episode.

      Uh, the IEEE have conducted a few more detailed experiments than the Mythbusters (nothing against them - I like the show), and have found that certain cellphones cause issues with avionics [ieee.org].

      Not all cellphones, not all planes, not all avionics - its combinations of them. The interesting one is causing GPS to lose satelli

      • by hazem (472289)
        The interesting one is causing GPS to lose satellite lock, which can be serious if using GPS approaches, since the plane must abort and divert (won't happen at big airports with traditional ILS, but smaller ones who find that a GPS approach is far cheaper than the expensive ILS equipment).

        Why would they allow a GPS landing system that is so fragile? It seems like all someone would need are some directional antennas and transmit the right frequencies towards approaching planes and they'll be forced to land
        • by Detritus (11846)
          The signals are very weak. The military has GPS equipment that is designed to work in hostile environments, but it is much more expensive and requires the distribution and use of crypto keys to enable the advanced features of GPS. Civilian GPS equipment, like most of the equipment in a civil aircraft, is not designed to operate in a hostile environment.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      And when are these asshats going to learn that cell phones do not interfere with flight controls? You'd figure at least one of them had to watch that MythBusters episode.

      Did you watch it?

      For one modern aircraft, on the ground, they never got any measurable result. They couldn't even legally test an in-flight aircraft.

      But, given the literally dozens or aircraft models, in probably dozens more configurations, it would be logistically impossible to test all devices in all combinations with all aircraft to be

  • three-month trail of a new in-flight cellular service
    Is that anything like a three-hour tour?
  • Blackberry outages???

    Twitchy fingers on a plane???

    Wow, I'd be nervous... ;-)
  • This is perfect. My major concern (and the FAA's, as well, near as I can tell--crowd control) about cellphone usage on airplanes has always been the idiots around me shouting into their phones over the roar of a jet engine about mindless crap. You get a taste of this whenever a plane gets stuck on the runway for 5 hours (jetblue, anyone?) and apparently no one remembered to bring a book, mp3 player, or any other noninvasive form of entertainment. Having text message access is incredibly convenient for le
    • by arivanov (12034)
      It will also work, while voice is likely to be problematic.

      Everything else aside, SAT broadband adds 750ms+ latency and a host of QoS problems. These can only be circumvented by low altitude satellites and new SAT broadband technologies which have not seen any investment for nearly 10 years now. If the airlines create demand for these, it will be a good deal for everyone all around as it will allow internet access around the globe even in the most obscure places. Till then, SMS and GPRS-only is probably a w
  • Oh, good! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Otter (3800)
    The only two words that could possibly improve "Sitting on a flight while the idiot next to you yammers into his cell phone the whole time" are "...to Australia..."!

    Honestly, listening to the conversations at the gate ("Bob, could you print out the email to Stacy and fax it to Linda? And could you ask Debbie to scan the fax from Jeff and email it to Julio?") I mostly wonder how these people have jobs at all, let alone ones that can afford air travel.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      As they say, "RTFS" - read the fine summary. "During the trial at least, only SMS, MMS, and GPRS (data) traffic will be allowed; voice calls will be blocked." I think allowing data but not voice is the perfect way to let people keep in touch and stay productive without driving everybody nuts. So long as they continue that policy beyond the trial (and they did say "at least"), I see nothing to complain about. (And no, realistically, I don't think VOIP will happen enough to be a problem).
    • by lachlan76 (770870)
      Well, to be fair, Australians tend to be far more civilised about these things. Down here you can sit in the airport without having to endure people shouting into a phone (judging by the number of people from the US that I hear complaining about it, it sounds as though people are incapable of talking normally into a phone there). I suspect that voice calls are blocked so as to keep bandwidth requirements down.
      • by Dan541 (1032000)
        Worse are the people who use loudspeaker while in public.

        • Worse yet are the people who travel in pairs or groups, and talk to each other while on an airplane! If you thought it was bad to have to suffer through hearing ONE side of a conversation, it's even worse having to hear BOTH sides of one!

          The only reasonable solution is to prevent airline passengers from talking at all for the duration of the flight!
      • Or maybe it's because Australia only has 20 million people and the US has 300 million, so the numbers of people in the far-fewer airports are far less, giving the false impression that Australians are more "civilized".
  • Not a bad idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MadCow42 (243108) on Friday April 20, 2007 @10:58AM (#18811769) Homepage
    >> During the trial at least, only SMS, MMS, and GPRS (data) traffic will be allowed; voice calls will be blocked.

    Having data/sms access would be nice, but I've always thought that having voice access would be very disturbing. The last thing I need is to spend an overnight flight listening to the knob next to me jabber on his phone the whole time.

    If they do enable this in a wider scale, I would hope they continue to block voice calls.

    MadCow.
    • by lintux (125434)
      Agreed. No voice calls, never. However, support for SMS means that from now we get to enjoy all the silly annoying ringtones people have selected when they receive SMS messages. Bah.

      And wasn't there this theory that allowing passengers to communicate with the outside world can cause stress and panic when things aren't going as well as planned?
    • by lachlan76 (770870)
      That's something for the airlines to decide. I'm sure that it would be perfectly legal for QANTAS to let me take my pants off in the cabin on its flights, however I doubt that it would go down too well if I tried it.
    • by Scott Wunsch (417)
      Think about what the article said, though. Your phone is connected to a small tower in the plane, and it functions like a separate country for the purposes of the cellular network, so you're paying international roaming rates. Now I don't know about your plan, but for me, that's at least a couple bucks a minute. For a sufficiently important (and short) call, I'll pay that. But I sure won't be droning on with inane chatter for a couple hours like you're implying.

      To be honest, I don't really see this as b
    • What rubbish. They ought to deal with it in planes the same way they deal with it in cinemas, opera halls and the like - prominent notices, announcements, and social taboos.

      The government has absolutely no business regulating manners.
  • by Zero_DgZ (1047348) on Friday April 20, 2007 @11:00AM (#18811801)
    So nobody can call authorities during a 9/11 style emergency. They just have to text it out.

    hlp flt 423 they r in r plane kling r dudes
    • "hlp we r pwned!"

      Great post.
  • Just the idea of "Roaming down-under" in a plane reminds me of a bad porn flick.
  • I remember that years ago when I was on a plane lots of people received calls and text messages on their phones both at take-off and at landing. Mostly those phones were in the over-head lockers, so nobody bothered switching them off at the time.

    The interference problem can obviously not be that bad. So technically I don't think there would be any problem implementing the in-plane GSM transmitter.

    But whether this is desirable remains another issue. I wonder how healthy it is to be surrounded by so many

    • by BlueTrin (683373)
      I think it has never been a problem of jamming the communications but rather a problem of making money out of the situation.

      Now it may be even harder to make people understand that the communications were never an issue without triggering reactions such as "you lied all this time to us". They will need to find some way to market it and make money out of it.

      The only issue that scares me is that in the case of a crash or terrorist attack people could try to send data to their families or ground police.
  • Skype Anyone? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ironwill96 (736883) on Friday April 20, 2007 @11:49AM (#18812435) Homepage Journal
    So..how long until the GPRS data user figures out "hey, I can plug in a microphone and just use Skype since its 'data' traffic". Queue the inane conversations using only "data" now. Basically restricting it to data will have no effect as VOIP has been around for a long time last time I checked..

    Blegh, people should chill out and not bother everyone else when they are on an airplane.
    • by Stonent1 (594886)
      I don't think GPRS has the bandwidth to run Skype. It is only marginally faster than dialup.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)
        GPRS peaks at over 100kbps. It has more than enough bandwidth to run VoIP. The problem is latency, not throughput. Skype might not be the answer but low-bitrate AMR can be sent over such a connection. It's just going to be chunky. I would prefer a walkie talkie style communication (Voice IM) over such a connection. Back in the day you could get a program called phpfone (IIRC) that would make an 8kHz mono audio stream, compress it, encrypt it, and send it; Mac and PC, interoperable. I believe it came out of
      • by vidarh (309115)
        GSM speech encoding uses 9.6kbps, and many speech codecs can work well at lower bitrates than that. I don't know about Skype, but I'd be very surprised if there aren't voip solutions that work fine over GPRS.
    • by TheMeuge (645043)
      I am hoping that those with the IQ to think about doing that, and the know-how to use Skype, will also be coincidentally courteous enough not to do it.
  • So how did the people on 911 use their cell phones again?
  • Next, we need a way to enable cell-phone access in the shower. It's very important that I let my friends know what kind of shampoo I'm using.
  • There's no difference in GSM and UMTS as they are both digital networks.
    So if sending an SMS won't ... ehm ... disrupt inflight operations, voice communication won't as well.
    The bottom line is that you loose your freedom until you are in a plane.
    br
  • I do NOT want to be stuck in a seat next to someone bored, yammering on about whatever. Keep the phones OFF on planes!
  • by x3rc3s (954149)
    ...please, think of the bee's

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